Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Vegetables in Kigali are generally good and cheap.  Avacados for a quarter, pineapples for under a dollar, a kilo of tomatoes for under a dollar.  The main market in Kimironko is quite good with a good selection, though usually the same set of produce.  You can regularly buy pretty fresh red, white, and green onions, roma (and only roma) tomatos, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava (which scares me - that whole neurotoxin thing), carrots, radishes, lettuce, brocolli, green peppers, green beans, chillis, mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant, garlic, ginger, thyme, rosemary, mint, cilantro, basil, parsley, rhubarb, pineapple, oranges, local lemons, limes, apples, passion fruit, tree tomatos, papaya, and sometimes watermellon and fennel. Oh, and tons of scary dried fish, large carcases of hanging meat, chickens in the "local frozen," "imported frozen," and waling around variety.  The only weird thing is that the variety doesn't ever change.  All tomatoes are roma tomatoes, all chillis are the same kind of thai green chillis.  I kind of miss going to the market and seeing what new or different things they have in stock.  And for someone who has never particularly liked celery, there have been a ridiculous number of times I have needed it for something and failed to be able to find it.  Any suggestions for something other than celery for the stuffing for Christmas? (Other than apples and onions?)  Celery salt, strangely, is available - so I might need to improvise there.

I have to go to the market tomorrow to buy things for Christmas.  The whole expedition (and then the washing process) is somewhat lengthy, but it's really a lot of fun.  But to show you something of what's available, the other day Elizabeth and I went a little crazy on vegetable patrol and bought the following for about $30 USD:

Holy Strange Dreams Batman

 So... I'm wondering if the fact that I am having crazy - *and i mean crazy* - dreams every night is related to my antimalarial drugs.  Doxycycline isn't supposed to have this as a common side-effect, buy who knows.  I very rarely remember my dreams at all, and I've been having vivid dreams that I remember each night.

A small sample as of late of the crazy things going on in my brain at night:

1)  Stopped someone who had killed their 14 siblings, but got stabbed three times in the leg as a result.  After going to my grandparent's house they convinced me to go to the hospital, and conveniently there was a hospital just through the garage at the house on Inwood Dr.  This became infected, caused my brain to grow outside of my scull until I was only a giant brain with tentacles as legs to move around.  The infection had its own consciousness, and was attempting to destroy the world.  I was a person on the beach (the site of the world-conquering efforts of the brain-infection-consciousness) as well as a consciousness in the brain trying to stop the infection-consciousness from destroying the world.

Albert the Frog
2) We were all performing in a staged production of some disney-esque play but no one knew any of the words and we we just making it up as we go along.  It involved flying purple birds - they were centrally important - and somehow we were friends with Paris Hilton who was a kind sweet caring person (definitely a dream).  Albert was a great friend, also in the play.  Albert was a frog, a green and brown frog.  Somehow, during the performance and after we were all fumbling for lines, Albert fell deep underground.  We stopped the play to mount a very dangerous rescue mission to save him.  He was so scared and lost that he was trying to hide as opposed to being rescued.  The stage was sinking and we were close to getting Albert but it involved being wedged between an electrical panel and running water, which was starting to shock us.  At the same time the front of the stage (which was made of a car) stage that was slipping into the mud abyss had trapped a lady.  All of the other frogs were mounting an operation while we tried to save Albert.

Um...  So definitely staying on the antimalarials while I'm in Mombasa and for the necessary time when I get back, but I might need to consider something else if this continues.  Eternally curious at what the night will bring when I go to bed now.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas in Kigali

Someone rather triumphally announced yesterday that the rainy season (the short rains) had passed.  Somone was epically wrong.  It has been raining - and I mean RAINING - for several hours.  Like raining to the point that it was streaming into the kitchen from the balcony.  All of the surrounding hills have disappeared as well into the brigadoon cloud that has enveloped Kisimenti.

Rain and 82 degrees, I have to admit, does not feel like Christmas, especially for a Maine boy like me.  I definitely do not miss the cold that is the reality in Chicago and Maine this time of year, but I miss the snow - or at least the *idea* of snow. :-)  I've been working on decorating the appartment for the holidays, with the limited things that are available.  I borrowed a tree from the courtyard with large waxy leaves, actually found some lights and then have been making ornaments out of paper.  The goal was to find red and green paper, but, well, welcome to Kigali. 

Shopping here is a bit like a treasure hunt.  Strange things can be found easily and in abundance, while others are completely hit or miss.  I could go out and buy 20 maps of Rwanda, and about 700 Liters of oil without any difficulty, but finding vinegar or garlic was a never ending task today.  I tend to wander through shop after shop looking for the random items on my list for Christmas dinner.  In each shop I might find a few items, or none at all.  One store today had, literally, 30 containers of tea masala spice, and no other spices.  At another I found vast quantities (by which i mean 8 packages) of fish boullion, but finding chicken boullion took a half-dozen more shops.

Hunting for paper was the same way.  After numerous people thinking I was absolutely crazy for wanting *red!* paper, I finally settled on lime green and pink paper.  The result is that the decorations in my appartment make it lind of lokk like Christmas in Key West.  Especially since the same paper is being used for everything - the paper stars, danish woven heart baskets, as wrapping paper for presents...  But it's at least feeling a little bit like the holidays.

The day after Christmas I leave for Mombasa, to spend a week including New Year's on the beach.  Again this seems absolutely crazy to me, but is sounding like a lot of fun.

Christmas dinner is going to a bit of a fusion event of Danish, Rwandan, and Finnish dishes.  The is looking like the following::

Danish Tea Ring and Local fruit salad

Pineapple Mint Salad
Pickled Cucumber Salad
Dilled Carrots
Danish Carmelized Potatos
Sage-Apple Dressing
Chicken, Pork, and Beef Brochettes with Orange-Thyme Marinade

Ris ala mande
Rhubarb Crumble

All of this is,of course, dependend upon finding a few things during my next shopping treasure hunt in the city.  We'll see how it goes...

 And yes, that is a Flying Turtle on the Christmas Tree!

Friday, December 3, 2010


These creatures were attempting to invade my home the other morning.  I found this when I entered the Kitchen in the morning (the poor thing was still alive):

After removing the unfortunate cockroach from the kitchen, I headed into the bathroom to get ready and discovered the following:

There are bugs and creatures everywhere here.  It's like a never ending war.  The ants are particularly annoying and incessant.  They are part of the reason that I made peace with Lloyd, the white lizard who lives in the kitchen behind the fridge, and have decided to let him stay.  As long as Lloyd keeps helping with the bugs, and only startles me every few nights, I'll be fine.  I'll try to get a picture of Lloyd sometime, as well as of Steven (the conglomerate name for all green lizards that live outside the building) and post it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

My Experience with Kigali's Hospitals

This was unpleasant...

So after returning from Bujumbura things went downhill, and quickly.  My roommate started feeling ill on the way home, and I thought I was doing ok.  I was wrong.  About 8 PM Monday night I started feeling sick, and by 10 PM I had all but taken up residence in the bathroom.  By about midnight I was heading to the bathroom about 8 times per hour, every hour.  It was really, really bad.  By about 2 AM I had decided something was really, really wrong, so I called my other friend who had gone on the trip with us.  She had just started vomiting.  I thanked my lucky stars I wasn't vomiting as well.  10 minutes later, I was back in the bathroom vomiting violently - really violently.  A little after 3AM I called a friend who was a doctor, at a complete loss of what to do.  I was starting to lose fluids, a LOT of fluids, and fast.  On her advice I started trying to take the cipro, but it I couldn't keep anything down.  And vomiting cipro-bile through your nose into the sink, while also sitting on the toilet having diarrhea - wow.

This continued all night, and by morning I could feel myself getting dangerously dehydrated.  My doc friend did a house call in the morning, said to keep trying to take the cipro, but if i wasn't getting any fluids down to go to King Faisel Hospital.  By noon, at which point I was vomiting and crying at the same time, it was clear that wasn't working.  Six times per hour to the bathroom with no liquid intake is bad, really bad.  Hardly able to walk by this point and losing far more liquid than the few drops i was taking in, and still with no antibiotics in me, I called a friend to take me to the hospital.  He was wonderful.  As was the hospital. 

So I spent the day admitted to King Faisel Hospital in Kigali.  It's the private hospital in town, and is actually quite good.  Not like one back home of course, but everything was sterile and new.  I spend the day on an IV rehydrating somewhat and getting massive ammounts of antinausea meds, antibiotics, and I'm not even sure what else.  By nightfall they had determined that I had an intestinal infection, though no identifiable parasites, no malaria, and no typhoid.  This was good.  The best part of the tests was the following medical report (I have this in writing) "Stool Appearance: Green."  Aie.  Let me just tell you that providing a stool sample into a little cup with massive diarrhea while also managing the IV in your arm... interresting.

I ended up returning home that night once I had been able to stop vomiting, which meant I could get fluids and antibiotics in me.  That said, it took me the better part of a week before I had any energy back at all.  Massive fluid loss, sickness, and not eating for several days straight will do that I guess.  It was unreal just how much it totally wiped me out, and especially how fst it happened. But in any event, it seems to be better now.  All in all, the doctors were great and my friends were amazing during a very very scary time being sick.  We still have no idea what caused it, or why it attacked my so violently, but it's definitely made me very wary of any food.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Burundi and the Beautiful Lake Tanganyika

We went to Burundi for the weekend, four of us, and it was amazing.  Really amazing.  After getting our visas in Kigali at the Burundi Embassy, we drove down.  I was worried a bit about the drive as the area from the border to the capital can be really dangerous, but this seems to be mainly after dark, so we made sure to be in Bujumbura before 4PM, and everything was fine. 

One of our friends used to live there so it was really nice seeing the parts of town we would never have otherwise experienced.  We went out to some amazing restraunts - like Indian that was so great we, literally, were licking bit of sauce from the table atthe end.  The food in general was really really good, though I still wasn't thrilled with the fish, even if it was "fresh" from the lake.  Growing up on the coast of the North Atlantic makes you spoiled.  Bujumbura does have some fun nightlife though, and we went out dancing more than once.  The return trip was crazy, especially the near fist fight that broke out in the pushing shoving mob at the painfully slow exit customs. Some lady called me a bitch after *she* forced herself in front of me in the "line" (read: mob) and I noted what had happened.

But by far the best part was the lake.  It was stunning, warm, fun, just amazing. We spent a lot of time at the lake at a place called Bora Bora run by a friend of a friend.  Waves, sand, water, mojitos, the mountains of the DRC - the really really high mountains - on the other side ofthe lake, it was gorgeous.  And real chocolate mousse!  Can you tell how sick of Kigali's restraunts we are?  The only problem with Bujumbura was that the food was so good that it made us really sad to return to Kigali. 

Honestly though, Kigali is great.  It's safe, there are systems that work, even if they are slow.  We have hot water at home, a great view, and decent fresh foods, even if they get a bit repetitive for lack of variety.  You can walk around at night.  The police do not hasstle you.  This comes with the fact that the food is expensive and shitty in nearly all restraunts, and public service is truly terrible.  Frequently orders are messed up, bills added incorrectly, and when this is pointed out, people often (though not always) show no concern at all.  It makes you appreciate good customer service when it actually happens - or at least appreciating mediocre service.

When we were in Bujumbura I had my ipod stolen - from out of the vehicle when we were stopped at a stoplight.  A guy just reached in, grabbed it, and ran before I even knew what was happening.  The police offer standing literally right beside out car just stared blankly into space with no concern whatsoever.  (We later learned that for abribe of $10 the police officer would have *shot* the guy - for real.)  As it turned out, an old man saw what happened, chased the thief down, beat him up, and then returned the ipod!  It was surreal, but it's hard constantly having to be on guard.  In Rwanda you're constantly on from the hasstles - No, I don't want to buy airtime, No, I don't want to buy a map of Kigali, No, I don't want a copy of the New Times OR Jeune Afrik OR the Economist (offered always in that order), Stop screwing me on prices for motos, No, an avacado is not indeed 700 francs (it's 100), and Yes, I am fully aware that I am a Muzungu (white person) though that is not indeed my name, nor is "my friend" (always followed by "give-a me money" or something to buy), and contrary to popular belief, it is not actually necessary to announce that "Muzungu, Muzungu!" has arrived every time I enter certain shops - but the key is that in Rwanda you do not have to be constantly on for fear of theft or personal safety.  There is theft, of course, but it's more like the reality in Chicago or Boston.  Be careful and alert, but you can put the windows of the car down, and you can walk around after dark.  It's just a different kind of having to be "on", but I'd prefer hasstle-on vs safety-on any day of the week.  Bujumbura was great for a visit- and I'd go back - but I'm so much happier to be living in Kigali!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No Power, but Progress

It seems that a post I wrote never made it up here, likely due to the computer dying in the midst of the posting.  The power situation in Remera has continued to be rather abysmal.  Yesterday it went our 7 times, and the last time seems to have been for an extended period.  Went off at about midnight last night and now (9:30AM) it is still off...  This makes getting work done on the computer rather difficult as I have about two hours of battery life on this computer.

In any event, following the awful day that made in into the last post, things have actually been going quite a bit better.  I went back for yet another meeting at the archives and this time three miraculous things happened: 1) the construction equipment blocking the stacks had been moved so that access was (mostly) possible; 2) the woman in charge was actually there; and 3) she was there *at the same time* as I was!  This proved well, as I finally got things set up so that I can now use the resources available there.  AND, it is possible to bring things home to work on them, which is even better.  So since then I've been spending my days actually getting back on a real schedule and digging through lots of reports.  It also turns out there is an annually published evaluation report of the National Commission on Unity and Reconciliation which is a great overview of their activities.

I've also decided that given the extreme berth of time it can take to accomplish things here the original research plan, which was neatly divided into time blocks is going to have to adjust somewhat.  Interviews will still begin after the first of the year or after Feb 1, but I'm going to just start contacting the religious organizations and other commissions now and starting to piecemeal that together as is possible, rather than waiting until I'm done with the resources with which I'm currently working.  It also helps quite a bit to be somewhat direct in expressing the frustration with slowness.  This seems to help because 1) Rwandans, for good reason, are quite conflict averse, and 2) people actually begin to see that you are working on a timetable.  In any event it feels good for things to be actually rolling along well.

I am also realizing that I think a part of the "it'll be done when it's ready" approach to things may have something legitimately to do with the weather.  It is now November 17 and it could just as easily be August 17.  Nothing changes here.  It sometimes feels like an episode of Twilight Zone, or you've been thrown into Land of the Lost (without the dinosaurs).  Every day it is 82 degrees and every night it is 64.  Not even kidding here.  It rains, or it doesn't rain - that's it.  You hear the same noises, the same birds, the same sun...  It makes me think about how strange it really is for us in the North to live with the impending doom of winter just around the corner.  There's always a sense of time moving.  Summer ends and the leaves start changing, the air starts getting brisk - there's always a sense that something is just around the corner, and this comes with a correlative sense of anticipation.  Time to get ready for Thanksgiving, getting ready for the winter holidays, praying for spring to arrive and the sun to emerge from its long cold slumber behind the Chicago gray.  There's never a rush to get things done before winter comes, or to get ready for the spring.  Now mind you, I quite enjoy the absence of cold, but the effect of a season-less year is a feeling of indefinite time.  Perhaps I will feel differently knowing that the April rains are coming when March rolls around, we'll see.  But the current "rainy" season literally means about an our of rain rolls through in the afternoon - a lot like camp.  It doesn't really disrupt anything, unless you get caught in it.

In fun news, Papyrus (the club, the one with the least number of prostitutes)) has also undergone a recent renovation, tripling it in size!  We met the owner the other night and there are also plans to install additional air conditioning in the new rooms, which is great because it was, as KS would say, "hotter than the hinges of..." in there.  Tons of fun now with the new space and lights, but HOT.  All of the University students are now on break as well, so it's crazy packed, which doesn't help on that front.

A final note, and one of great sadness.  One Love guesthouse, which had the best brochettes on town - the only food that we have actually craved since coming to Kigali - is now under new management with a new menu.  The brochettes now taste just like every other place in Kigali, just ok.  Perhaps we should stage a mini-protest.  One of my friends the other day described Rwanda as a "culinary failed state," and I think this may be spot on.  We've gotten to the point of being excited for mediocre and vastly overpriced food.  My roommate and I decided the other day that the food at "Chez Moser" is definitely the best in town, so I think we're going to stop trying to find the elusive great restaurant that just doesn't exist.  The list grows ever longer of things to bring for when the parentals arrive! :-)  On the plus side, wonder of wonders I found a place that imports Rocquefort cheese and Capricola!  And... they are actually good.  The repertoire of possibilities at Chez Moser is growing.

On that note, here's a recipe for one of my go to salads I've been making lately.

O-A-RO Salad (Orange, Avacado, Red Onion):

Mix together and then allow to marinate for a while:
Oranges, rind sliced off, seeded, and cut into wedges
Red Onions, sliced in half and then into very thin slices
Bunch of Cilantro, chopped
Bunch of Mint, chopped
Olive Oil
Red Wine Vinagre
Salt and Pepper
Sugar to taste (if oranges are a little bitter)

Serve over rough cubed avocados and top with Cinnamon toasted Macadamia Nuts (with a hint of sugar)